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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, March 14th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Lester Holt, Edwin Lyman, Daniel Hirsch, Carolyn McCarthy

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  More than 150 aftershocks have hit the

Japanese coast since Friday.  Thousands are without food and water, and a

third reactor at a Japanese nuclear power plant has lost its cooling system

the cooling system that prevents a meltdown.  And now, the Japanese Nuclear Safety Agency is reporting an explosion at that reactor.




NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS:  We begin in Japan.  The situation there is nothing less of apocalyptic.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS:  The aftershock continuing to unsettle people for a fourth day.

L. O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  In Japan, the water is receding, but the ground is still shaking and the danger is still growing.

JANSING:  About 10 minutes ago, Dylan, we got shaken pretty good in downtown Tokyo.  No food, no water, no heat, no shelter.

Only 10 percent of food and water that they need.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS:  If it was just the quake, Japan would have quickly gotten on its feet.  But the tsunami seemed to knock it over the edge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Across one expansive shoreline, 1,000 bodies washed up today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It should be right now, the focus of search and rescue.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to reiterate how heartbroken we are.

N. O‘DONNELL:  Humanitarian disaster being compounded by the potential for a nuclear nightmare.

L. O‘DONNELL:  The threat to some survivors is getting worse.  Two nuclear plants are dangerously hot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Eleven people were hurt when a second hydrogen explosion rocked a nuclear plant.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  At the Fukushima nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, reactors one and three are in partial meltdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Americans helping in the relief mission have been exposed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is very telling that a ship that far out was detecting radiation.

L. O‘DONNELL:  Fear of a nuclear meltdown is spreading to American politics, and the debate over energy.

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  It now has U.S. senators weighing in on nuclear power.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  I‘m still willing to look at nuclear.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  Quickly put the brakes on.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  I don‘t think after a major environmental catastrophe is a very good time to make American domestic policy.

N. O‘DONNELL:  Should the U.S. pull the brakes on nuclear development?

DANIEL PONEMAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF ENERGY:  We are going to continue to seek to diversify our energy supplies.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE:  We don‘t abandon highway systems because bridges and overpasses collapse during earthquakes.


O‘DONNELL:  Good evening.

The situation at Japan‘s Fukushima nuclear plant has gotten worse.  Japan‘s Nuclear Safety Agency just reported an explosion has been heard at reactor unit two.  It‘s the third explosion in four days.  The explosion is feared to have damaged the reactor‘s pressure suppression system and put the radiation levels over the legal limit.

Emergency operations to pump seawater into unit 2 had temporarily failed, exposing its fuel rods for several hours.  In all, the cooling systems at three of the plant‘s reactors are failing, which means the fuel rods are likely melting.

Earlier in the day, a hydrogen explosion at another unit in the plant left 11 workers injured.  Operators knew the seawater flooding would cause a pressure build up, but believed they had no choice in trying to avoid a complete meltdown.

New photos from Google show just how bad the aftermath is at the Fukushima nuclear plant.  This is what the plant looked like from above before the tsunami hit.  This is what it looks like now.

While a Tokyo Electric official said in press conference that he does not believe a critical event is imminent, a senior nuclear industry executive told “The New York Times” the Japanese nuclear managers are, quote, “basically in a full scale panic.”

Fear also grips the hundreds of thousands of displaced survivors of this disaster as they face food shortages and freezing temperatures.  The U.S. Geological Survey has upgraded Friday‘s earthquake in Japan to a 9.0.  Officials estimate at least 10,000 people were killed in the disaster, 2,000 bodies washed ashore today.  At least 15,000 are still missing.

President Obama spoke about the situation earlier today at the White House.


OBAMA:  Although Japan is a highly advanced economy and technologically equipped to rebuild, at this moment of crisis, it is important that all of us join together in providing any help and assistance that we can in the days and months to come.  And so, I‘m in close contact with Prime Minister Kan.  And our teams are in close cooperation, as our military in the region.  And we expect to continue that cooperation until we have some stabilization of the situation there.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now from Sendai, Japan, NBC‘s Lester Holt.

Lester, do you have any new information about the explosion that just occurred at the Fukushima plant?

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS:  We can tell you it is Tuesday morning here.  That occurred a little—a little less than three hours ago.  The explosion was heard.

Now, one of the Japanese wire agencies is reporting there was increase in radiation level shortly after that explosion.  We haven‘t independently confirmed that.

What we do know—this is the same reactor in which rods that have been exposed earlier as the system they try and pump seawater in to cool the rods was failing.  This apparently is happening on various levels on three reactors right now.  It‘s amazing in the short time, suddenly we have all become versed on at least the basics of nuclear physics and none of the scenario is good.

One of the things we‘ve known over the last couple of days is we hear different reports from different experts, sometimes from the same agency that don‘t add up.  The prime minister here today has moved forward to ask or to form the creation of a joint taskforce or joint command between the government and the authority that operates those plants.  And we‘ve heard varying reports as to how serious all this is, what a meltdown would mean with the actual container that the reactors were in, would that melt through and the various questions about the radioactivity.

They continue to have a 12 ½-mile—I‘m sorry, something‘s on my eye, 12 ½-mileexclusion zone around the area in which people have been largely evacuated.  If they‘ve not evacuated, they are being asked to stay inside their homes.

There have been question as to whether this should be raised from a level four, it has been—excuse me—the level four in terms of scale of zero to seven for nuclear emergencies.  The French have questioned whether this is more serious than the Japanese have let on.

All of this playing out while people try to get on with their lives and recover their lives, and find their loved ones from the quake and tsunami.  It‘s kind of an odd situation that they are worrying about a nuclear disaster at the same time the search for survivors goes on.

We talked to people a short while ago who don‘t know where family members are, who say they are not getting food by the way.  There‘s not food lines here.  There are some shelters set up in this area.

But a lot of people are sleeping in their cars here.  They‘re afraid to go back in.  Their homes are damaged.  There have been aftershocks, many of them will quickly get your attention and give people reason to be afraid to go back in their homes.

At the same time, we‘ve seen life trying to return to normal.  People are going about their business.

This is a very big city.  It‘s a city of about a million people.  The area that was hit by the tsunami, hard to get an estimate, but it certainly didn‘t encompass the entire city.  But when you go to those areas, you‘ve been going down a normal street, everything is fine.  And then we‘ll see areas have been flattened, cars turned upside down.

Those are not emergency sirens for tsunamis.  Those are just fire trucks.  They have been coming back and forth all day.  Fire truck agencies from all over Japan as well as internationally gathered here, going out in big convoys in the areas to begin to look for victims.

So many areas are still untouched here they haven‘t gotten to.  So, we hear these numbers of tens of thousands of people perhaps missing.  In some cases, they may be cut off.  But the fact is: we really don‘t know.

O‘DONNELL:  Lester, what can the victims of this disaster do about the possible radiation exposure?  Certainly, they might want to move as far away from these nuclear plants as they can at this time.  But is there any ability to do that?

HOLT:  Well, that‘s a good question because fuel is very hard to come by.  We drove up from Tokyo overnight.  Cars were being turned away that didn‘t have special permits.  We were able to get a special permit to go on what was equivalent of a toll road.

But even those folks who got a car, there is no gas for them.  So, when we were leaving rush hour in Tokyo, this huge city that is notorious for big traffic jams, very few cars on the road.  That plays against the people who are trying to get out of these areas.

And people are also—you know, I said we‘re all becoming amateur nuclear physicists, we don‘t know what we don‘t know about radioactivity, how far it travels.  The government here says 12 ½ miles is the zone.  They believe that‘s safe.

But we‘re all aware that wind shifts.  We‘re aware that eight U.S. war ships encountered some radioactivity that were off the coast of Japan earlier.  They now moved to a safer area.  Not a big dose, but it reminds you that it is out there.  And people really don‘t know what to do and have very few options to get out of here.

O‘DONNELL:  NBC‘s Lester Holt—thanks for your report, Lester.

HOLT:  You bet.

O‘DONNELL:  For more on the nuclear worries surrounding this disaster, we turn to nuclear expert, Dr. Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Dr. Lyman, what do you make of the 12-mile radiation zone risk?  Is that—is that an adequate zone to be outside of in order to protect yourself?

DR. EDWIN LYMAN, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS:  I have never believed that an evacuation zone limited to only 10 miles like it is in the United States, or 12 miles in Japan, would be adequate to protect the public from the significantly increased risk of cancer, should there be the worst-case scenario in one of these plants.

What it could do is protect people from the most severe affects of radiation.  That would be acute radiation syndrome which could be immediately life-threatening.  But it will still not be sufficient to protect people from the risk of cancer.

O‘DONNELL:  We just heard Lester Holt refer to American service people being exposed on ships in the area.  The USS Ronald Reagan discovered there was an exposure by some—at least 17 crew members, and they were 60 miles away from the Fukushima plant.

So, that‘s an indicator right away that depending on, I supposed, wind and other factors, could be a much, much bigger area than 12 miles.

LYMAN:  Yes, that doesn‘t surprise me at all that there was some detectable radiation.  It does surprise me that the Navy considered it such a threat that they actually moved those ships.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, what do you make of the explosion—the most recent explosion in the reactor a few hours ago?  And is this taking us closer to a possible meltdown?

LYMAN:  Well, I just heard the news, but I can‘t say that was unexpected either, given that reactor number two was in trouble all day.  And it seems to be following the same path as its companions, number 1 and 3, that core damage has lead to generation of hydrogen, which led to an explosion in the outer building—that‘s what I am assuming has happened, but I‘m not sure yet.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, again, to follow up on something Lester said, he was talking about the international nuclear and radiological event scale, how do you put this thing in perspective.  Currently, this is being listed as a four.  Three Mile Island being a five, and Chernobyl being a seven.

But does that factor in—does that four factor in there was accompanying tsunami with this event which did not occur with those other nuclear plant events?

LYMAN:  Well, I think the rating system is based on the ultimate end state of the accident, and we are nowhere near there yet.  So, I think it‘s premature to give it a rating.

I think the Japanese themselves suggested four because they didn‘t want to look like they may be the worst nuclear accident in history, but I think it may be tending that direction.  So, I think we need to wait and see.  I think the French authorities are right in suggesting five or even a six at this point would be more appropriate.

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s listen to what the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had to say about this today.


GREGORY JACZKO, U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION:  The lack of any harmful impact to the U.S. is simply based on the nature of these reactors and the large distances, obviously, between those and any U.S. territory.  So, you just aren‘t going to have any radiological material that by the time it traveled those large distances could present any risk to the American public.


O‘DONNELL:  So, the American people have absolutely nothing to worry about here?

LYMAN:  Well, you know, I agree with that assessment that it is unlikely that it is going to be significant radiation exposure.  But, you know, any amount of radiation is harmful, even the smallest dose, because it‘s—the dose is proportional, or the consequence is proportional to the dose.

So, I think Americans may not be at great risk, but I think we should still be angry at the Japanese for running their nuclear program in a way that could at least expose us to any level of radiation.

O‘DONNELL:  Edwin Lyman from the Union of Concerned Scientists—thank you very much for joining us tonight.

LYMAN:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: what would happen to nuclear power plants here if a 9.0 earthquake hit?  How safe are we at home, and should our politicians be rethinking nuclear power?

And later, surviving a tsunami.  We‘ll hear from people who managed to escape death in the 2004 tsunami, and what it‘s like when the wall of water hits.


O‘DONNELL:  Congressional Democrats want Republicans to hold hearings to evaluate the safety of nuclear power plants here in the U.S.  The White House wants to continue with plans to expand nuclear energy.  We‘ll talk about the safety concerns up next.

And later, Michele Bachmann likes to talk about revolution.  But over the weekend, she revealed to an unsurprised nation that she actually knows next to nothing about the American Revolution.  That earns her tonight‘s “Rewrite.”



OBAMA:  Tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal.  By 2035, 80 percent of America‘s electricity will come from clean energy sources.  Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all.


O‘DONNELL:  To meet the clean energy goal outlined in his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama‘s 2012 budget proposed $36 billion in Department of Energy loan guarantees to build new nuclear power plants, and additional hundreds of millions more towards nuclear energy research and reactor design.  The United States currently operates 104 nuclear reactors in 31 states, 23 of those reactors use General Electric technology, very similar to that used in the Fukushima nuclear disaster site.  General Electric is parent company of MSNBC.

Two nuclear reactor sites, the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre plants are located in southern California, near the San Andreas Fault line.  The San Onofre site is a particular safety risk, according to Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey, ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.


REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  They are in the process right now with the nuclear regulatory commission of, in fact, finishing a process that will make it possible to build and license Westinghouse AP1000 reactor.  One of the senior scientists at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that that‘s the kind of plant that could crack, shatter, like a glass cup under stress.


O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Markey has called on President Obama and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to consider imposing a moratorium on building nuclear power plants in seismically active areas.

That‘s an overreaction, according to Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, whose home state of Tennessee operates three nuclear reactors.


ALEXANDER:  It‘s important that we be clear about the risks that each type of energy poses.  But it is also important to remember that we don‘t abandon—we don‘t abandon highway systems because bridges and overpasses collapse during earthquakes.  The 1.6 million of us who fly daily would not stop flying after a tragic airplane crash.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now, Daniel Hirsch, who is president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nonprofit devoted to nuclear safety.  He is also a lecturer on nuclear policy at the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Thanks for joining us tonight.


O‘DONNELL:  Dan, there‘s a big difference between our reaction to a car accident and a nuclear power plant meltdown, isn‘t there?

HIRSCH:  Absolutely.  A few people can die in a car accident. 

Hundreds of thousands of people can die in a nuclear power plant accident.

Let me give you one number.  The San Onofre nuclear plant, that you mentioned, in southern California, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimated 30 years ago that if there were meltdown there, there could be 130,000 immediate casualties, radiation sickness like Hiroshima, die in a few days, 300,000 cancers and 600,000 genetics effects, about a million killed or injured.  That‘s vastly different than a highway accident.

O‘DONNELL:  And that‘s before you get to the vast economic depression that would then occur throughout California and the country in the aftermath of something like that.  And Senator Alexander uses the example of a plane crash, a single plane crash, not changing our behavior in terms of air travel.  Again, a completely ridiculous example compared to any kind of nuclear power plant disaster.

HIRSCH:  Absolutely.  A nuclear plant when it‘s operating has about 1,000 times the long life radioactivity of the Hiroshima bomb.  And this fuel polls maybe 10 times that.  It can‘t blow up like a bomb, but it can release vastly more radioactivity than an A-bomb.  And that‘s, you know, orders of magnitude different than a crashing plane or a bridge coming down.

We have to come to terms with the fact that this is a technology of immense danger.  And maybe we the species aren‘t capable of handling it.

O‘DONNELL:  And wouldn‘t it be obvious that nuclear plants shouldn‘t be located near possible earthquake zones?

HIRSCH:  Exactly.  It‘s essentially a jar with a vast amount of radioactivity in it and placing that jar at an earthquake fault that can cause it to break and be released.  It makes no sense.

The late environmentalist David Brower once defined nuclear a power plant as the complex technological device for locating earthquake faults in California because it seems like every time we build a reactor in California, we then identify earthquake faults very close to it that can cause that reactor to be at risk.

O‘DONNELL:  And the notion that nuclear power plant can be built to withstand a certain level of seismic reaction strikes me as the height of folly, given that these things are, you know, evaluated by man, who is capable of error on all sorts of these kinds of calculations.

HIRSCH:  Well, for example, the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant that you also mentioned in California.  Originally, it was designed with the assumption there was no major earthquake faults nearby.  And after they built it, they found a massive fault nearby.  They had to retrofit it.  And when they retrofitted, they used the wrong blueprints, you know, one had been built to the mirror images of, you know, too in terms of blueprints.  They reversed the blueprints, and they put all of the restraints, pipe supports in the wrong place.  And when that was discovered, they had to go back, redo it all.

So, human beings make mistakes.  Most of the people running nuclear plants are solid, and sensible and technically competent, but there are human errors that occur.  There is the Homer Simpson effect, and we have to come to terms with that.

O‘DONNELL:  With a nuclear power plant, you‘re relying on people to never make mistakes generation after generation.  It‘s not just the first group of workers that show up to duty there.

HIRSCH:  Right.  Edward Teller, who was a great fan of nuclear power, once said that every time a nuclear advocate talks about nuclear technology being foolproof, he gets worried because there‘s always a fool, he said, greater than the proof.  We are human beings.  We make mistakes.

O‘DONNELL:  Daniel Hirsch with the group Committee to Bridge the Gap, and a lecturer at UC-Santa Cruz, thank you very much for your time tonight.

HIRSCH:  Thank you very much.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: the intense search in Japan that families are waging to find their loved ones.  We get the latest on that part of the disaster from NBC‘s Ann Curry in Japan.

And later, President Obama writes an op-ed column about stricter gun legislation, but leaves out any mention of cracking down on the sale of high capacity ammunition clips.  Representative Carolyn McCarthy, the congresswoman that proposed a ban on sale of those clips, gets tonight‘s LAST WORD.


O‘DONNELL:  “The New York Times” is now reporting the explosion heard at unit two of the Fukushima reactor tonight may be more severe than the two explosions at unit one and three.  This one may have damaged the inner steel containment vessel which could lead to a wider release of radioactive material.  That part of the story is still developing tonight.

Still to come this hour: communication systems in Japan are barely working, making it difficult for people to find loved ones and family members in towns that have been completely flattened by the tsunami.

Ahead: NBC‘s Ann Curry with the story of one very lucky family. 

And later, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has no problem questioning President Obama‘s birthplace, but she would have a problem passing a citizenship test.


O‘DONNELL:  In tonight‘s Spotlight, the human toll of disaster.  Amid the rubble today, NBC News correspondent Ann Curry found the joy of reunion, and the pain of not knowing what has happened to untold numbers of victims.  Ann joins us from a town about 250 miles northeast of Tokyo, where more than half the population is unaccounted for. 

ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  It is Tuesday here, and this is what is left of Minimum Minamisankriku, one of the most devastated towns in the hardest-hit region of this epic disaster.  Thousands here still do not know what happened to their missing loved one. 


CURRY (voice-over):  NBC News obtained this new home video of the tsunami as it struck.  You can hear people yelling hurry, hurry, run, to the victims below, as the wave, four stories high, raced six miles inland in this coastal fishing village of Minamisankriku. 

Ten thousand of its 17,000 residents are still missing.  Hiromi Hodiuchi (ph), unable to find six members of her family, dissolves the first time she sees what happened to her home.  Her uncles and sisters, whole families are missing.  She‘s saying “I‘m worried I will never see them again.” 

Despite exhaustion, hunger and cold, many others pushed on, trekking miles, looking for loved ones.  This father and daughter found a missing aunt.  Somewhere amid the wreckage, there was also an American missing. 

In San Francisco, Megan Walsh pleaded for help on Twitter, saying her sister was last seen in this Minamisankriku.  Canon Perdy (ph) was described as 25, and English teacher who returned to Japan on the day of the quake to see former students graduate from middle school. 

Searching evacuation centers, it was Hiromi Hodiuchi who helped us find Canon.

(on camera):  Are you Canon?

(voice-over):  There she was, stranded without phone or cell service, glad to use our satellite phone to speak to her sister and parents for the first time since the disaster. 

CURRY:  I found your sister.  Here she is. 



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, my God, Canon.  Are you OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I am totally OK. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We lost her, but she‘s OK. 

CURRY:  Hiromi thanks us for helping Canon‘s family.  But she herself still waits, her heart breaking. 

“We are strong,” she says.  “We will not give up.”  The strength of two families among thousands being tested. 


CURRY:  And in a stunning development, hours ago in this prefecture, a four month old baby was found safely with her parents by a Japanese soldier.  Now back to you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Along the coast of Miyagi, which took the full brunt of the tsunami, there are reports of some 2,000 bodies found scattered along the coastline.  That gruesome number would actually makeup less than one percent of the 230,000 that died in the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and other areas.  More than 25,000 of those victims were never found.

NBC‘s Kate Snowe talked with two people that experienced that tragedy firsthand. 


KATE SNOWE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Few people know what it is like to survive something like this.  Few know the raging power of a tsunami.  But Petra Nemcova, the Czech born super model, and TV talk show host Nate Berkus know it all too well. 

In December, 2004, Petra and her boyfriend Simon Atlee (ph), were vacationing in Thailand. 

(on camera):  You saw the sea going out. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I seen that, and I wished that—I knew that was the sign of a tsunami coming in. 

SNOWE (voice-over):  But like almost everyone else on the beach, the couple had no idea what was coming.  They went back to their beach hut. 

(on camera):  Do you hear the wave coming? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  In a split of seconds, the comes in, breaks the bungalow, breaks all the glass.

SNOWE (voice-over):  The water swept the couple far from their bungalow.  The surf so high, Petra was able to reach up and grab a branch of a palm tree and hold on. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  For me, when I see the footage of what has happened in Japan, the sounds and the smells come back to me. 

SNOWE:  On that same day in 2004, Nate Berkus and his partner, Fernando Bengo Achea (ph), were on vacation in Sri Lanka when that tsunami rolled in. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The first thing that I heard was the sounds of structures, trees, things collapsing and snapping.  And within 30 seconds of that, I was pinned underneath the bed.  Really the scariest part of surviving a tsunami is what you‘re in the water with.  It is like a soup of bodies and babies and the most horrible things you can imagine. 

Last time I saw Fernando, we were attached to a telephone pole.  I remember saying to him what is this.  We thought perhaps it was a tidal wave, had no idea.  He said, but it is over now, it is over now.  And as soon as he said that, the water changed direction again, and that was the last time I saw him. 

SNOWE:  As for Petra, she clung to that tree for eight long hours, her pelvis shattered.  Eventually, she was rescued, hospitalized for weeks.  Sadly, she was never able to find her boyfriend either.  Petra feels a deep kinship with the victims in Japan now. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My heart goes to everyone in Japan. 

SNOWE:  she hopes to help the survivors.  After the 2004 tsunami, she created the Happy Hearts Fund that builds schools for children after natural disasters strike. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If children can go back to school, which is safe, they can go back to normalcy.  They can start with the healing process. 


O‘DONNELL:  There are many ways you can help the people of Japan.  Just go to to see a list of charities, including the one founded by Petra Nemcova after the 2004 tsunami. 

Coming up, it has been over two months since a crazed gunman killed six people and injured 12 at a Tucson supermarket.  Why did President Obama write an op-ed on gun control for an Arizona newspaper, and not even mention the need to ban the high capacity magazines that allowed the gunman to fire 31 bullets into the crowd that day?  That‘s coming up. 



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So far, Adam and Jamie have shown just how easy it is to shoot fish in a barrel.  It turns out they could have proved this myth blindfolded.  The shockwave alone is enough to turn any fish belly up.


O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite.  OK, this one does have the feel of shooting fish in a barrel.  But so does anything involving fact checking Michele Bachmann.  In fact, the phrase shooting fish in a barrel could be replaced with fact checking Michele Bachmann, or better put, mistake proving Michele Bachmann. 

Because finding Michele Bachmann‘s mistakes is as easy or perhaps easier than shooting fish in a barrel, especially for those of us who aren‘t exactly handy with guns.  And mistakes is a kind word when it comes to Michele Bachmann.  Many of the falsehoods she has spouted, such as healthcare death panels, must be lies because she must know—she must know that they are completely untrue. 

But many of the things she says are truly breathtaking demonstrations of ignorance levels previously unimaginable in a member of Congress or graduate of an American elementary school.  Like one she said recently, in a prepared text, that the Founding Fathers ended slavery, obviously having absolutely no idea that the Founding Fathers deliberately did nothing to end slavery, and that it was, in fact, the 16th president of the United States who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and fought and won a Civil War to end slavery. 

She got off another one of those American history things this weekend.  In New Hampshire, she pandered to more than one audience by saying, quote, “you‘re the state where the shot was heard round the world at Lexington and Concorde,” end quote.  The Lexington and Concorde she was referring to, of course, are in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire.  And unfortunately for her, there‘s no one in New Hampshire that doesn‘t know that. 

She said this on Friday night and again on Saturday.  The question of how ignorant is Michele Bachmann is now unanswerable.  Just when you thought you knew, she comes out with something shockingly—and I don‘t use the word shockingly lightly—shockingly ignorant about Lexington and Concorde, two of the most famous sites in the Revolutionary War. 

Now, what fascinates me more than the question of how ignorant is Michele Bachmann are two other questions.  One, how ignorant is Michele Bachmann‘s staff?  And two, how ignorant are her voters? 

Remember, Michele Bachmann said this thing about Lexington and Concorde twice.  She said it on Friday and then her brilliant staff allowed her to say it again.  And remember, it‘s the same brilliant staff that allowed her to say the Founding Fathers ended slavery. 

That means Michele Bachmann‘s staff doesn‘t know that the Founding Fathers did not end slavery, and they don‘t know that Lexington and Concorde are in Massachusetts.  How and where did she find congressional staffers who don‘t know that? 

I hereby promise you, based on my personal experience working in the Senate, there is no other staff in the history of the Congress that does not know that Lexington and Concorde are in Massachusetts.  Who are these people who work for Michele Bachmann?  Who wrote that speech for her?  Where does she find these people? 

There are many, many ignorant members of Congress, and many ignorant senators.  But they are protected all day long from revealing most of their ignorance by staffs who are hundreds of times smarter than they are.  Perhaps all of Michele Bachmann‘s staff come from her district, which may be the most ignorant congressional district in America.  In 2010, 52 percent of that district voted for Michele Bachmann to represent them in Congress. 

Now, she had already proven time and time again to her district and to America that she is unworthy of representing any congressional district in America.  But 52 percent, the same percentage in that district that voted for John McCain for president, voted for Michele Bachmann in 2010. 

What makes those voters so ignorant?  Well, for starters, they are whiter than the average district, 92 percent white in fact.  But that explains nothing.  Missouri‘s 8th Congressional District is 91 percent white and has been represented by Jo Ann Emerson since 1997. 

We do not have a litany of imbecilic comments by Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson.  In fact, we have none.  If we missed any, please submit them to our website, and we‘ll se if they compare to Michele Bachmann‘s.

The median income in Michele Bachmann‘s district is 68,000 dollars, which is roughly the equivalent to the median income in Barney Frank‘s district, 66,000 dollars.  So the money explains nothing, because Barney Frank‘s intelligence and expertise in public policy, not to mention his wit, is second to none in the House of Representatives. 

So those income levels in Michele Bachmann‘s district are not the explanation for why her voters are so ignorant.  And so tonight, I surrender.  Since I have no answers, I will leave you only with questions.  Question one: how ignorant is Michele Bachmann and how did she get that way? 

And remember, this is a graduate of Winona State University and Oral Roberts University School of Law.  Law school graduate.  Do not overlook her academic achievement in trying to explain this.  Doesn‘t make it any easier to explain. 

And two, where does Michele Bachmann find her shockingly ignorant staff?  And three, perhaps most important of all, what explains the rank ignorance of the 52 percent of the voters in Minnesota‘s 6th Congressional District? 

Good answers to any of those questions will be used on this show, and of course, you will get full credit.


O‘DONNELL:  Yesterday, President Obama published an op-ed in the “Arizona Daily Star.”  He suggested that the nation “enforce laws that are already on the books on gun control, reward states that provide the best data, and provide an instant, accurate, comprehensive and consistent system for background checks to sellers who want to do the right thing, and make sure that criminals can‘t escape it.” 

His gun control proposals land him squarely in the politically safe zone of popular opinion.  A new “Newsweek”/”Daily Beast” poll finds that 86 percent support instant background checks for every buyer and 83 percent support fully funding a National Background Check Database. 

The poll also found that 67 percent support banning sales of firearms and explosives to people on the terror list—terrorist watch list.  And 51 percent support a ban on high capacity clips. 

“The Huffington Post” reports that the White House has taken a ban on high capacity magazine clips off the table for now.  President Obama defends his timidity in this territory in his op-ed.  “Some will say anything short of the most sweeping anti-gun legislation is capitulation to the gun lobby.  Others will predictably cast any discussion as the opening salvo in a wild eyed scheme to take away everybody‘s guns.  And such hyperbole will become the fodder for overheated fund raising letters.  But I have more faith in the American people than that.” 

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York.  Thanks for joining us tonight, congresswoman. 

REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D), NEW YORK:  Thank you, Lawrence, for having me on.  And I agree with you.  I think the American people are smarter than that. 

O‘DONNELL:  It was a very strange piece, including this part where he actually prejudices the case against Jared Lee Loughner by saying—describing him and saying definitively that Jared Lee Loughner used it to murder—used these weapons to murder six people and 13 others. 

I don‘t know what his lawyers are going to do with that, in terms of a pretrial prejudicial publicity motion.  But were you surprised that the president couldn‘t find his way over to Dick Cheney‘s position, which is consider support for your proposal to limit the use of these high capacity magazines and limit their sale? 

Dick Cheney said that‘s something we ought to consider. 

MCCARTHY:  I actually was surprised, Lawrence.  We got a head‘s up from the White House that the piece was going to run.  So we knew it was coming around midnight, a little after midnight.  When I read it, I read it several times.  I said OK.  So he wants to open a dialogue.  I have no problem with that.

And certainly I have always supported—I passed the first improvement Nicks (ph) bill going back in the year 2007.  We had already started working on how do we expand it, how do we make it a better bill.  How do we bring more people into the system. 

But, again, that certainly is eliminating people that can buy guns, but it still doesn‘t take care of the question that someone that already has a gun can still get a large magazine because they don‘t have to go for a background check to have that. 

So I‘m going to continue fighting for that.  And I‘m not going to give up on it. 

O‘DONNELL:  There are over 200 million guns in the country.  Ammunition control and the use of that ammunition, the capacity of the ammunition is where all the real serious thinking should be on this at this point, since we can‘t get those guns back that are already out there. 

MCCARTHY:  And I agree with you on that, Lawrence.  And again, the Supreme Court came out with the ruling that someone has the right to own guns.   But, again, I will say to you that the Supreme Court also left the door open that we can look at things to try to make the public more safe.  And that happens to be the large magazines. 

Let‘s face it.  If the shooting in Arizona or all the other mass shootings that we‘ve seen in this country, if they only had the ten bullets in the magazine, a lot of people would be saved.  I am still negotiating and working with the White House.  I‘m still working with the Department of Justice. 

I‘m not going to give up on this.  As you say every night, that something worth fighting for is—you know, is worth losing.  I don‘t plan on losing this.  But it is up to the American people.  And certainly with you—your help out there on educating people, we can get this done.  I do believe that. 

I believe that everyone that comes up to me that I don‘t even know, saying I support you on getting rid of these large magazines—a lot of people still don‘t know about it.  That‘s where we have to educate a lot more people, and the president. 

But I do give him credit for opening up the dialogue.  I do. 

O‘DONNELL:  Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York.  You‘re being very generous in your credit to the president.  Thank you very much for joining us tonight. 

MCCARTHY:  Thank you, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,  You can also follow my Tweets @Lawrence.  “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.  Good evening, Rachel.


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